The Challenges Facing Smaller Churches

My new friend Chuck, over at Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, has a fascinating blog going about the challenges and joys of serving in the small church setting. Most classify small church as any under 300 attendance in worship services. To me, 300 is big…my church is 60.

I suppose you could classify even further down…small churches, quite small, very small, super small, mega-small. Each presents its own struggles, as do all larger churches as well.

One of our greatest struggles is retaining young families. We are primarily an”older”congregation; I would put the average age at 60. And the laws of age dictate that unless the church grows younger, it will pass away in 10 years or so. So, the leadership of this church determined to attempt to connect with younger families, in hopes of “growing younger.” One of the first things they did was hire me.

But this “growing younger” has proven to be much more difficult than I anticipated. We have several young families in the community in which our church is located. And several of them have visited us. But the first thing a guest does when visiting a church is look around at all the people and think to themselves, “Is there anyone here like me?” If the person thinking that thought is 28 years old, married or not, with young children…it would be hard to find many people in our church who fit that demographic. I do. And I am the minister, so that counts for something. But, by and large, there are not many there like our guest.

I look for ideas to address this issue. If you have some, I’d love to hear them…please post a comment. I’m not griping…each church faces its own challenges. But I do hope to share some of those challenges here, look for ideas, dialogue with others in the same boat. If you’re in the boat, you have to check out Chuck’s blog…he is doing the smaller church a great service.


16 thoughts on “The Challenges Facing Smaller Churches

  1. Hey Brandon, one of our pastors (the one who leads the 18-30 ministry) keeps saying, “Frotos need Gandolphs” (a little Lord of the Rings lingo there). I think this is a great metaphor!

    What would happen if you began to bill your seniors as one of your strengths? This would require you to cast this vision to the seniors… one in which they see themselves as a critical part of the outreach strategy… one in which they see themselves as Gandolphs – valuable traveling partners to the Frotos!

    What would happen if we began to see our seniors as assets instead of liabilities? I’m still working on this one too bro! Let me know what you think.

  2. Hey Danny…nice to see you here. And good idea. I struggle with effective programming, but perhaps that is something to think about…a way to target that group and get them all in the same place at the same time.

  3. Paul–go Colts! Great thoughts…and right on. As I was typing this post, I got to thinking about the very point you are making. That seniors are not liabilities, but rather, an integral part of the Church. Paul even points this out in Titus, when he encourages them to teach and train the younger generation.

    Can I ask…what ideas have you employed in your church to teach this? I appreciate any help I can get. I love this conversation!

  4. We face very similar challenges at our church. I am not the minister, but as parents we have the spiritual well-being of our son to consider. As he grows up we want him to attend at a church with others his age, rather than there being someone 5 years older and someone 3 years younger.

    A suggestion to keeping what you have is to get them involved in church life as much as possible and to challenge people to ask where God wants them to be.

  5. Brandon,

    I too love this conversation.

    I’m actually going to post a blog about this soon… you’ve got me thinking and I want my church to engage in this conversation too!

    Hey, let’s partner to pray for the Colts! You ask, “Is it theologically correct to pray for a football team?” Let’s see:

    1) God made colts
    2) Indianapolis named their football team “Colts”
    3) Therefore Indianapolis recognizes God and we can pray for them.

    Oh, you say, “God made bears too.” I say, “Shut up.”


  6. Paul, I look forward to reading what you are thinking.

    I will pray alongside you for the Colts. I’m pretty sure God favors the Colts over the Bears. My reasoning:

    Bears are dumb.

  7. Pingback: Prayer and Sports (or Why God Favors the Colts) «

  8. Hey, Brandon, great post and comments. Looks like you definitely stirred something up. I’m very interested in exploring the idea of intergenerational groups — sharing stories, skills and fellowshipping together. I cannot find any curriculum or outline for this. My church is similar to yours in the age of the congregation. And we have lost younger families who used the excuse of no teen program to leave. I think the issues were different, but it reinforced that sense of failure in our church that we failed in establishing a youth program. I personally think the church should quit dividing people by age — a recent phenomenon begun by Sunday School in the late 1800s. Prior to that, everybody worshipped together, fellowshipped together, extended families lived together, and intergenerational experiences were the norm. Now they are the exception. Any thoughts?

  9. Chuck, as always…thanks for stopping by.

    I just read somewhere (I can’t remember where) about a church that had something called “The Buzz” (I think). It was an hour of worship, prayer, communion, and fellowship…and it was designed for the entire family. From babies to grandparents, everyone attended and participated together. And it was geared to strengthen those intergenerational relationships…within the church setting, which we see as quite biblical and necessary.

    It was a cool idea…I’ll try to track down where I read that.

  10. Dude, how did I overlook the most obvious reason that God would choose the Colts… bears are dumb! Thanks for pointing that one out!
    I’m in a coffee shop laughing out loud… people are wondering why! What should I say? 😉

  11. When my kids were younger, I was taking them to a church that was “dying”, with very negative attitudes toward developing anything for youth. Although I was just beginning my own journey, I knew I wanted them to have more. I wanted them to know God more than I ever did and enjoy going to church and learning. Part of that is being around other kids their own age and I have seen great things with them being around other young Christians.

    However, they have never experienced what it is like to have a grandparent and I have not experienced having an older “mentor”. They had the opportunity to “adopt” an elderly lady this past summer and loved taking care of her lawn, doing errands, and all that good stuff. It was obvious that she thoroughly enjoyed having them around and I saw caring and responsibility to another person that I have never seen before in my guys (she fed them lots of great food too, as only a grandparent can do!). We’ve talked about trying to do this more…it can benefit everyone involved!

    By the way…all cheering for the Colts here too…..

  12. I just put in a new post on this blog about the multi-generational service called “The Buzz” at a church. It’s a cool idea. The title of the post is “For Kids and Adults.”

  13. Rindy,
    Thanks for stopping by. And thanks for sharing your story. What a cool thing for your kids to experience in adopting someone older. Not only do they have the chance to learn to serve and love someone…but also the chance to sit at her feet and gain wisdom from someone who has lived so much life.

  14. A joke, courtesy of my dad, who lives in Indianapolis:

    A first grade teacher explains to her class that she is a Chicago Bears fan. She asks her students to raise their hands if they are Bears fans, too. Not really knowing what a Bears fan was, but wanting to be liked by their teacher, their hands flew into the air.

    There is, however, one exception. Susie has not gone along with the crowd.

    The teacher asks her why she has decided to be different. “Because I’m not a Bears fan” she reports.

    “Then,” asks the teacher, “what are you?”

    “I’m an Indianapolis Colts fan,” boasts the little girl. The teacher asks Susie why she is a Colts fan.

    “Well, my Dad and Mom are Colts fans, so I’m a Colts fan, too” she responds.

    “That’s no reason,” the teacher says. “What if your mom was a moron, and your dad was an idiot. What would you be then?”

    Susie smiles and says, “Then I’d be a Chicago Bears fan.”

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